In 2014, Scotland was allowed to conduct a referendum to become an independent country. Over 55% of eligible voters chose to vote to stay in the United Kingdom. But the issue never went away, and the current leader of the devolved Scottish Parliament, Nicola Sturgeon, has announced another referendum, which will take place in October 2023. In this short guest post, Gavin considers the issues around the defence of both an independent Scotland, and the rest of Great Britain, should the vote be different next time.
Scottish independence and defence. Gavin Marriott
Due to an event during my time in the London Ambulance Service in the early 80s, I have a close association with a small part of the UK armed forces.
In 2014, I was their guest for the ceremonies for the beginning of the WW1 centenary in London and Belgium, and I did a trip around Scotland. I have Scottish blood in me. The bagpipes do something positive to my cardiovascular system.
But all this coincided with the Scottish independence vote, and I had to be careful raising discussion with arch rivals literally sitting either side of me. And there were times you could have cut the air above me with a blunt knife.
With Brexit and other events, the independence vote is on the agenda again. I will not discuss the pros nor cons or even contemplate a view. But in this discussion, I want to focus on an aspect ignored in the consequence of independence, and that is Defence.
It is more than a case of giving the Scots Guards to Scotland. Those guardsmen are mainly English or from the commonwealth anyway. Firstly, an independent Scotland would have to apply to join the EU & NATO. To not join either would be unthinkable. But joining would take years with criteria and hoops to meet – like having a 2% of GDP spend on its military.
The Scottish Parliament has made it abundantly clear, the Trident nuclear submarine base on the Clyde would leave Scotland. These are Britain’s major defence deterrent. There is nowhere else in Britain with the deep water to house theses subs and to shift them to America would have to be considered at a cost of multi billions and Scottish job losses.
The same with RAF Lossiemouth which has Britain’s entire maritime patrol and early warning aircraft stationed there. There are also British radar installations which would need moving.
So why are the subs, aircraft and radar based in Scotland? Because Scotland is closest to the threat of Russia (North Sea, Norwegian Sea and the Atlantic) and would be the first attacked. It is sparsely populated and would be easy pickings. Scotland is 32% of the UK landmass and has a coastline of over 10,000 miles. So its in Scotland’s favour for Britain to have these facilities in Scotland. It allows any threat to be spotted far away and intercepted in time (and Russia often tests this).
Scotland not having these assets would affect its NATO membership and Scotland not being part of NATO would leave it open to a Russian takeover. That would threaten England. So there could be more tension than football rivalry.
With major UK bases in Scotland and Scotland building warships, they gain a lot financially from UK’s combined military. Also what about the Scots that make up 15% of the UK military yet only have 8% of the UK population. What would there be for them in Scotland?
Look at a country with a similar population, New Zealand. We have no fighter aircraft, only 2 warships and only 2 regular infantry battalions. But we are in close cooperation with Australia and we do have 4 of the latest maritime patrol planes. Scotland would need more than 4 (The RAF have 9). Belgium and Netherlands now have a joint military squadron and the British and French aircraft carriers are compatible. Could Scotland be independent with an English or American military alliance. It would have to keep the subs for that.
So could Scotland go it alone??